Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The World Is Burning Around Us, Elmo

Elmo’s posting on X got our attention when one reply said, “The world is burning around us, Elmo”. (USAID Indonesia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Martin Wahl

… is how YouTuber Steven McInerney famously responded to Elmos January 29 post on X (formerly Twitter) asking How is everybody doing?” Well, Mr. McInerney is not wrong – the world is experiencing larger wildfires at an increasing rate. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service shows record-breaking fires around the globe in 2023 generating 2,170 million tons of CO2 and worsening the greenhouse effect. To put that in perspective, all the gas and diesel vehicles in the U.S. emitted 1,488 million tons in 2022.

In 2015, 200 nations agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5° C (2.7° F) relative to pre-industrial levels. The world breached that increase last year, and 2023 is confirmed as the warmest calendar year in global temperature data going back to 1850. Montanans are even being cautioned that bears may not hibernate as much this year and people should be prepared for encounters with them. It has also been noted that bears in many areas of the northeastern U.S. have also not hibernated yet because it is too warm and they have plenty of food to forage.

The Canadian fires last year ranging from the Atlantic to Pacific coasts burned 71,414 square miles, the equivalent of the Green Energy Times readership area from northern New York through all of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In the U.S., smoke from the Canadian fires reached from New England to the mid-Atlantic states. Warming temperatures likely increased the hurricane winds that drove the deadly Maui fires with 100 lives lost. As the season changed over the new year, in the Southern Hemisphere fires are now raging in Chile and Australia, causing more than a hundred deaths in Chile and burning thousands of acres.

Not just fire danger

Global warming-caused atmospheric changes are also leading to increased storm frequency and severity, most recently seen in the U.S. in California and Oregon. The addition of increased rainfall in lands parched from years of drought leads to dangerous flooding; rain on saturated hills triggered a staggering number of landslides. The drought and other changes impacting agriculture also contribute to increased migration out of developing countries nearer the equator. Increasing heat and heavy periodic rains are affecting farmers in New England. Warming atmosphere also plays havoc with snowfall, decreasing in some areas and increasing in others. See the article on page 20 about the causes and effects of the drop in our region’s snowpack. New Englands ski resort managers know the phenomenon well. Weve heard, too, about the effects of warming oceans on coral reefs and sea level rise including the northeastern coastlines causing much erosion and damage.

Now this is getting expensive

The total annual cost of wildfires — made worse by climate change in the U.S., including property damage, insurance payouts, timber loss, diminished real estate values as well as direct firefighting –is estimated to be between $394 and $893 billion. Using the lower figure and projecting the costs for five years with a conservative discount rate, the net present value of those costs is about $1.5 trillion dollars, enough to justify taking some pretty hefty counter measures right now.

The 2024 budget for the Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s wildland fire and hazardous fuels management totals $2.97 billion, which is $647 million, or 28% above the comparable 2023 level.

And we know what to do about it

Burning fossil fuels is the leading cause of the greenhouse effect warming the planet. It is true that misguided forest management practices in the last century contributed to the fuel load available for conflagrations, but warming the globe has significant multiple impacts, from drought conditions to reduced disease resistance of trees and the future of their existence.

So, Elmo, we know what the leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions are: from fossil-fuel powered transportation, and home and water heating and cooling, to agricultural practices. And we know the actions we can take to mitigate their generation. Green Energy Times is all about the solutions to mitigate further damages resulting from the continued use of fossil fuels for transportation, electricity, and heating and cooling buildings.

Our articles show readers how they can reduce their carbon footprint, including choices for housing and transportation. Our advertisers also provide goods and services readers can use to achieve their personal CO2 emission reduction goals.

After a career in data product management, Martin Wahl has worked in biofuels since 2006, currently with Lee Enterprises Consulting, a large bio-economy consulting group. Dividing his time between California and New Hampshire, he serves on Corte Madera, California’s Climate Action Committee and is a Newfound Lake Region Association member.

To see this article as it appears in print, as a pdf file, please click HERE.

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